Japan’s New Development Aid Scheme
By admin March 2, 2015

After a year of reviews and consultations, Japan adopted new guidelines for international aid on February 10th. This came after the December 2013 adoption of its first-ever National Security Strategy, in which it openly called for the “strategic” use of the Official Development Assistance (ODA). What does it mean for the development world?


The “strategic” use of ODA refers to the emphasis on the use of ODA to advance Japan’s national interest, which follows Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s review of the aid charter. Japan’s ODA remains an indispensable tool in the Japanese foreign policy toolkit. Since the launch of its aid program 60 years ago, Japan has provided ODA to help reduce poverty and spur sustainable growth in developing countries by building up their infrastructure and human capital. Lately, however, Tokyo has explicitly and increasingly emphasized leveraging its aid to advance national interests.


The following paragraphs break down the implications and priorities of Japan’s development policy going forward.


Shift of Foreign Policy

The revisions, the first in 12 years, fit in neatly with the broader redirection of Japan’s foreign policy that seeks a more proactive role for Tokyo in international diplomacy and security. Abe’s government aims at a development aid scheme that goes far beyond providing bilateral assistance to utilizing aid as a catalyst for development partnerships. Recognizing the increasingly growing role of nontraditional actors in development efforts, Japan aims to spur growth in developing countries by strengthening its cooperation with and mobilizing resources from the private sector, local governments and nongovernmental organizations.

 “Quality growth”, but Poverty Alleviation?

Japan’s aid program, traditionally, is grounded on “human security” perspectives, which stress protecting and empowering individuals through self-reliant development: human capital, socio-economic infrastructure, private sector growth and institutions and regulations. The new aid charter builds on this tradition and goes even further by introducing the notion of “quality growth,” or growth that is inclusive, sustainable and resilient. Japan aims to leverage its own experience, expertise and technology to help developing countries “help itself” to realize quality development. This policy direction, however, has prompted criticism from civil society that it’s too focused on growth, with poverty alleviation merely a result of that growth.

Aid for Foreign Troops Nonmilitary Operations

The boldest endeavor in this new charter is perhaps the signing of a provision that allows giving aid money to foreign troops, but limited to nonmilitary operations such as disaster relief. Although the new charter reiterated Japan’s long-standing policy of aid not being utilized for military purposes and stated that such assistance will be considered on a case-by-case basis, the policy shift nonetheless aroused a great deal of controversy. The vagueness of the provision for channeling aid for nonmilitary purposes, experts say, raises concerns that Japanese ODA could, in fact, end up funding foreign military operations. Although government officials argue that they would be very cautious on how such assistance is disbursed, these concerns are legitimate since aid money is fungible and always run the risk of falling into the hands of someone they weren’t intended for.

The new ODA is yet a challenge and an opportunity for Japan to boost its international presence. Looking forward, the development world is waiting to see if Japan will keep its word.

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